Search Engine Land has long been chronicling Google Doodles, the special logos the company produces to celebrate a wide variety of occasions. So, of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear the stories behind the Doodles, when Doodle team creative lead Ryan Germick, along with user experience designer Marcin Wichary, took the stage at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin.
Usually fun, creative and whimsical, the Doodles provide Google with an opportunity to show a human side, Germick and Wichary said, adding that it also lets the company unify the Internet community with a shared experience — something that’s rare these days, given media fragmentation.
The Doodles show that “we are people too, and we’re interested in goofy stuff,” Germick told the audience at SXSW.
As Danny chronicled in his history of Google Doodles over the years, the special logos started pretty modestly. But more recently, Doodle-watchers have seen some pretty elaborate interactive logos emerge, some as a result of the collaboration between Germick and Wichary. The two told stories about some of the logos they’ve worked on together, including some of the more involved ones we’ve seen lately.
Pac-Man’s 30th Anniversary, May 21-22, 2010
This — a Germick and Wichary collaboration — was Google’s first big step into interactivity and animation of the Doodles. (We first wrote about this here and here.) Though it was widely speculated that the designers had used some kind of emulator, in fact, Wichary started from scratch after studying, and determining how to mimic, the game logic. Each ghost has its own “personality,” Wichary said. “They really feel like distinctive creatures.” (Play it here.)
Rube Goldberg’s Birthday + Fourth of July, 2010
Germick and Wichary wanted to celebrate Rube Goldberg’s birthday, which happened to occur on the U.S. Independence Day. So they hit upon the idea of illustrating a “Rube Goldberg contraption” that incorporated items associated with the U.S. — a bald eagle, the Stars and Stripes, etc.
What was particularly interesting was the technology used to achieve the animation (not visible in the Doodle Archive). The Doodlers have to make sure they use the most widely-viewable technology, while also being sensitive about server load, because of the incredible number of views the homepage gets in any 24 hour period.
“Flash would be the obvious choice, but it doesn’t work on iOS devices,” said Germick. “We would lose a lot of our user base.”
They then tried animated .GIFs, but didn’t like the way it looked. So they hit upon spriting — using partially-transparent 2D raster images. Then Germick drew all of the frames needed for the animation, and Wichary assembled them — on the 45-minute Google shuttle ride home one day.
“As an artist, it is pretty amazing to have people like Marcin across the hall,” said Germick.
Wichary noted that the two had basically come up with a Rube Goldberg-esque way of illustrating a Rube Goldberg contraption — which was especially fitting.
Jules Verne’s 183rd Birthday, February 8, 2011
In designing this tribute to the French author, the team — Jennifer Horn was the artist for this one — took Verne’s classic “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” tale as a starting point. They began with the idea of showing the interior of a ship from 20,000 leagues under the sea, and thought, what if you could look through the windows? (We first wrote about this here and here.)
“This was the first Doodle where we actually had to do usability testing on it,” said Germick. “At the start, no one knew it was interactive.”
To remedy this, the team changed the look of the controls, to make things more obvious. It even added in the ability — for users using some browsers and on machines with accelerometers (some mobile phones and MacBook Pros) — to simply tilt their devices and see the view behind the windows change.
“We found this really interesting marriage of art and technology,” said Germick.
Doodles in the Future
Though neither of the Googlers would give away the subjects of any future Doodles, they said people could expect to see more of the interactive and animated logo treatments in the future.
“Now what we’re trying to do is keep that baseline of humanizing the web,” said Germick, and think “how can we use this as a technological play space?”